Insidious (2010)

A wild, sadistic reimagination of the haunted house-film that subverts its norms – with phenomenal set & spectral design, shrieking violin score, brutal/epic twist-ending, palpable Wilson-led performances, and some of modern horror’s best supernatural scares. 8.8/10.

Plot Synopsis: Parents (Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne) take drastic measures when it seems their new home is haunted and their comatose son (Ty Simpkins) is possessed by a malevolent entity.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

Another Haunted House Film?’

A Prospect More Decrepit & Shriek-Inducing Than Its Gray, Creaky Tudors – Reinvigorated By A Talented Genre Provocateur: James Wan

‘ANOTHER Haunted House film?’ The audible groans the subgenre invokes nowadays are as harrowing a shriek as the ghouls stalking the attics and basements of these aforementioned tudors. Yes, we get it – it’s financially-easy to produce, quick, jump-scare-filled 1hr30min thrill rides universally-applicable to everyone who owns a house, but the theme has decayed into a cliché-riddled decrepit display of things that barely register a pulse when things go bump in the night. In comes James Wan, a twisted provocateur best-known for the Saw series (and eventually, The Conjuring/Annabelle and Aquaman) who certainly lacks no idiom of imagination in his product. Wan & co. were driven by the prospect of reinvigorating the exhausted concept, and have managed to produce a film so scary & subversive, it will drive up the price of your electricity bills at night: A wild, sadistic reimagination of the haunted house-film that subverts its norms – with phenomenal set & spectral design, a shrieking violin score, brutal/epic twist-ending, & some of modern-horror’s best supernatural terror in eons.

A Slow-Simmering Atmospheric Descent Into Darkness

A Blend Of Skills By James Wan That Hypnotize Before Balancing Shrieking Violins & Humour In An Old-Meets-New-School Package

The slow-simmering atmospheric burn Wan instills into the film is breathable from its very first scene – aided through the smart cinematographical styles of mythic tracking shots and lethargic pans in long-takes that follow its characters throughout the film. There is a storm-cloud of existential dread tangible over the house throughout, one with an ominous feel that materializes and reveals itself more and more as the screenplay progresses without playing its hand too-early. The score is absolutely magnificent, aiding this slow-descent into darkness with ancient-feeling sybilline pads and flute arpeggios to create a creepy aesthiticism the cinematography mimics in bleak color palettes and blue-grey camera filters (along with an exceptional use of fog and lighting). This hypnotic, richly-dark slow-roast is juxtaposed by light humour in parts and blaring sequences of skrieking violins and blood-red powerful title cards for one of the most complete and comprehensive tonal packages of late, one that blends old-school and new-school horror with even some balance and escapist-relief – while never losing its dark edge, of course.

The Lamberts

A Family Portrait Of Welcome Characterization & Outward-Normalcy That Anchors The Horror In Something Tangible: Trauma

The family portrait is a welcome canvas of characterization that show how much of an old-fashioned cinephile Wan is. There is a refreshing nuance of development around the scares; an outwardly-normal family as routine as any other upon first glance that turns out not to be as the screenplay progresses. There is humor, tension, sadness, and interesting dynamics to be found between the line of the Lamberts’ arc as they go from the joy of moving to a new house to Hitchcockian circumstances.trauma of witnessing their child go into an inexplicable state of comatose non-diagnosable by even medicine itself. The mystery of what’s happening around them in the house – although not going to win any Oscars for acting, despite a star-studded cast – is latchable and investable by how realistic and commonplace the characters are – perhaps best exemplified by them moving to a new house like any real-life family would upon the slightest suspicion their house is haunted, only for the malevolent force to follow them wherever they go.

The Horror

One Of The Wildest Collections Of Supernatural & Child-Scares I’ve Seen Perhaps Since Exorcist

2010’s Insidious boasts one of the wildest collections of scares I’ve seen in a long time. From the opening scare managing to skillfully scare with just silhouettes and one ghastly appearance of the infamous lady-in-black that would play major role in the film going forward, the pedigree of supernatural & child-scares is the best since perhaps The Exorcist. Going hand-in-hand with its plot, the scares only evolve and cascade into wilder progressions from there – moving from a simple whirl of wind in the trees to conversational teases on a baby-monitor to alarms getting set off to the jaw-droppingly powerful summoning sequence and *bone-chilling* Man With Fire On His Face (one of, if not THE best demon-portrayal in the history of supernatural horror). The spectral design is fantastic and sheer number of them (as well as their following the family across houses, a neverending haunt) magnificent – with extreme unpredictability in scares making you study the slightest minutia of signs in the periphery of a scene for their presence and invoking old-fashioned terror through aestheticism & finesse over jump-scares.

The Finale

Although Expositionally-Abstruse, A Gateway To The Most Epic, *Ultimate* Haunted House Sequence – & A Subversive Twist

These scares and endless library of ghouls are unleashed on holiday in the film’s finale – one of the most epic and ultimate haunted house sequences ever filmed. Reminiscent of the finale of Kubrick’s ’80’s The Shining on a smaller-scale, Josh’s venture into the Further is a gateway to a masterpiece collection of supernatural scares so adroit and artistic, they can tell a story through mere imagery – like the blood-curdling, imagistic Doll Girl finding pleasure in the damnation of killing her entire family in the house that seems to trap the souls of those who died there within. The Demon’s Lair is absolutely fantastic in set design and makes way for a satanic showdown with the black-and-red force himself, and Josh confronts – and makes us believe he’s won against – the Old Woman In Black that haunted him as a child. This sets the stage for a Shyamalanic plot-twist no one could have seen coming – the final subversion of our expectations wherein the ghoul in the periphery of the film’s events wins and is born again on Earth with an.. insidious agenda.

Flaws

Some Inconsistency In Spectral-Design, Vexatious Renai, & Esoteric Finale

Flaws in Insidious mainly center around its final act, spectral-design, and Renai. While the vast majority of spectres in Insidious are breathtakingly-rendered and enough to strike fear by mere appearance, there are some hard-to-take-serious ones like the Morbius in the fisherman’s boots (um.. what?). The film also holds a bizarre inconsistency in grief-exposition between women and men, wherein Josh is criticized and condescended for dealing with the family’s trauma and haunts by delving into his work (a common response), but Renai is told ‘You don’t have to apologize for anything. Whatever you have to do to get through [your son’s coma], do it’.. by Josh’s own mom too, in case the hypocrisy wasn’t already bad enough. Renai also condescends Josh often – rolling her eyes, giving snarky remarks insinuating a discrepancy in work-loads, and throws tantrums like she’s too busy to do anything – all from a privileged position not having to work to pay bills and free to play piano all-day: a bizarre, inexplicable (& slightly sexist towards men) character choice. The final act is admittedly quite messy narrative and screenwriting-wise: an esoteric conundrum that feels a bit too kooky, outré, hokey, and tonally-bizarre for the rest of the film’s more-grounded and realism-base scares. However, the viscerality and sheer thrills of its scares make up 10x-over for its sins – in what was one of the most delightfully-twisted atmospheric ghost stories in eons.

Conclusion

One Of The Scariest Movies Post-2000

A Film That Redefines & Breathes Some Life Into The Decrepit Haunted House Subgenre

Overall, 2010’s Insidious is the best supernatural horror film I’ve seen post-2000 – as well as one of the scariest movies I’ve seen of this new millennium. A treasure-trove of slow-simmering, burning atmospheric darkness that takes an ostensibly-normal family and puts them through Hitchcockian trauma, the terror that follows is modern filmmaking and pedigreed-Wan direction at their finest. A wild, sadistic reimagination of the haunted house-film that subverts its norms – with phenomenal set & spectral design, a shrieking violin score, brutal/epic twist-ending, & some of modern-horror’s best supernatural terror in eons, Insidious purely exemplifies the macabric implications of its title in a red-faced, purgatorial imprint that will remain in your psyche like the ghouls of the Further.

Official CLC Score: 8.8/10